Trinity Development Group has purchased the prewar vegetable oil processing plant currently operated by Bunge. The trains will no longer rumble on the other side of the great wooden wall, and the image of the hub of silos bathed in saturated orange and yellow light at night will fade to black. Whatever will replace it, will “at least be better than industry”. But in a decade, how many people will still readily say that?
Proposed is another development dominated by a parking lot. It is an extension of the suburbanism brought courtesy of Home Depot and Canadian Tire in the late 1990s. Today’s trucks will be replaced by hundreds of cars. This kind of inefficient development is no longer acceptable in the urban environment of the city of Toronto. When the first big box retailers arrived in the area, the development was met with delight, even from yours truly. Gone were the smelly Ontario Stockyards in favor of shiny new retail. Two “big box” stores went up, pungently anti-urban in design though few cared to notice. The project put up a wall on St. Clair Avenue West without any entrances for pedestrians. Indeed, the only way to access it by foot is to walk around and through the parking lot’s access road.
The property at Weston Road and St. Clair is at more than a literal crossroads or intersection. This community can accept more car oriented development detrimental to the environment, or demand better. This project has the potential to set an urban precedence for redeveloping, for example, the empty half of the Home Depot parking. Communities with easy pedestrian access to retail and compact urban design such as Queen West or Roncesvalles, are among the more desirable communities in Toronto. They are vibrant and engaging, rather than sterile and generic. However, it is not necessary to recreate them. If there is a demand for big box retail, let us accommodate it. It is in our community’s best interest that development be efficient in land use. We are getting a heavy upgraded streetcar line, and urban focused development will be even more imperative in the future, especially in encouraging others along St. Clair to ride rather than drive here.
Let us not access the status quo. Fundamentally, every store that will neighbour Gunns, St. Clair or Weston must have an entrance facing the street, not the parking lot. Midrise residential condominiums should be added on top of the retail. Parking should be all underground. Any leftover space ought to be used for parks. It is this kind of development that will enhance the community. This may seem foreign as an urban interpretation of traditionally suburban style retail, but it is already planned for Queen West.
Ultimately, only this kind of redevelopment be better than trains, trucks, smoke and silos. The “anything is better than industry” mantra became inept the day Home Depot opened.